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Family footsteps help Emily Jacobs-Rudesill rise above the glass ceiling

by Chris M. Stevens
PEORIA, Ill. — A great place to live, work and raise a family. Peoria pride. People power the culture of a community. Emily Jacobs-Rudesill has followed her family’s footsteps. And filled some pretty big shoes, without falling.
History began with great grandad JG Jacobs, but herstory includes: success as both the 4th generation president of a union-affiliated electrical contractor, Foster-Jacobs; and her commitment to the community as an active member of the board of Rotary and the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum.

These positive actions and accomplishments had propelled an influential local publication, Peoria Magazine, to award Emily an impressive accolade when it designated her a member of the 2020 class of 40 Leaders Under 40.
“It was a surprise to me,” Emily says. As an electrician, she stands firmly on the solid foundation laid down by the three earlier generations. And as a member of the Labor/Management Committee for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Emily brings perspective. “I’m still a card holder in IBEW Local 34,” Emily says, “and I plan to keep that, because I’m there for management and labor. I can be a part of both because it’s important to see both sides. We have to talk. That allows us to explain where we are coming from and why and how we got to where we are.”
Back to the beginning. Emily’s great grandfather, JG Jacob, a working electrician and member of IBEW Local 34, had started a small side business repairing radios and other electrical tasks. The business grew and the family followed. Soon her grandfather Ray Jacob took over, followed by her dad, Gary Jacob. Now, as majority owner since the Fall of 2015, Emily serves as president and oversees bids, project management, customer service, marketing, etc.
And Emily maintains an active role in improving the community. “I had been a member of a co-ed business fraternity at Western Illinois University,” she says. “I had chaired the Community Service Committee and decided to carry on with that in my professional life,” adding, “I focus on a couple of organizations that are important to my life.”
Emily attends all of the Rotary community service events. “We plant flowers downtown,” she says, “and hold fund raising events for Peoria Public schools.” Emily, who also serves on the board for the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, had previously served as a parent ambassador. “I’m not as ‘out there’ as some,” she says, adding, “but people see what you do to make our community a better place.”
How did Emily get to the president’s desk at Foster-Jacob? “I had never wanted to join the business,” she says, “but by the time I had finished college, I knew I wanted to be in construction.” Emily had earned a B.A in Business Management with a minor in Construction Technology. “I had graduated during the recession in 2009 and there were no jobs,” she says. “So I went to work here just for a while.”
Six months on the job at Foster-Jacob and, “I realized the IBEW apprenticeship program was my best option,” Emily says. She applied and began her formal training in 2010. “I knew I would be working here and I wanted to be taken seriously by the electricians. And I had to understand projects and needed to know what it takes to bid a project, get materials ordered, and all the rest,” adding, “and I had to know what the folks in the field do.”
Emily laughs as she says, for someone watching it looks easy, but “It’s a lot of hard work. Bending conduit can be physically challenging, that was a surprise to me, especially in mid-July working on a project with no A/C,” adding, it saves on gym membership fees since it, “makes for a great physical workout.” Plus, there’s a lot of math in all the trades. “Electricians have to figure conduit bends, how much wire, boxes, outlets, etc. is needed and more.” As an apprentice she was impressed with the experienced electricians, adding, “the ones who have been doing this for a long time can just look at a project and know what is needed.”
During the time Emily has been a member of the union-affiliated, professional construction industry she has witnessed advances in technology. “LED was not a very big thing when I started in 2009,” she says. “Technology has come a long way and the cost has come down.”
Emily had spent her early childhood in Glasford and would sit on the family’s back deck and look at the stars. When the family moved to Morton, she says the sky was different as it lacked the massive amount of visible stars.
As an ardent photographer, she had joined a group which had traveled to Crater Lake in Oregon. Emily says as she began to shoot natural shots outside the widespread ambience of urban lighting, “I had forgotten how dark the sky can be and all the stars.”
Emily offers an example of technology improvement in lighting and she has brought that awareness to her professional career. “Now I try and educate about the importance of direct lighting.” The first and foremost improvement: sleep habits. Plus, nocturnal animals need darkness. “I’m a huge advocate of dark sky lighting outdoors.” Focused and directed light that illuminates “the area it is intended to,” she says.
Example, much outdoor lighting such as a street light, puts out illumination that goes everywhere, all sides, up , down and all around. Dark Sky lighting is directly aimed and reduces ambient light pollution.
As solar energy expands within the growth of renewable sources, Emily says, “I’m a big believer in green technology. I drive a hybrid vehicle and we installed solar panels here at the office and will at a home we are building.” She says the company realizes “it is part of the wave of the future.”
Emily has completed the certified IBEW apprenticeship program and says while she had a family background, for those who don’t, high schools need to “expose students to the trades. They get paid during the apprenticeship and at the end owe nothing and will make a good living.”
District 150 does have programs to expose students to the trades and brings them to Foster-Jacobs, and other contractors, as well as visiting the union apprenticeship schools. The idea: ensure the students understand and are aware of the opportunities available in the professional union Building Trades.
A licensed female member of IBEW Local 34, one of the very first locally, has worked at Foster-Jacob since 1983. Emily likes to tell how, “We got a note from a customer whose daughter thinks because of her, that all electricians are women.”
With a new home under construction and the construction ‘season’ soon to start as the warm winds wash over the midwest, Emily says, “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. After I came to work here, almost right away I knew it was where I should be, so I stayed,” adding, “I’m glad I did as I really enjoy what I do.”

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